Thee Oh Sees‘ latest singles collection is closer to the Hussy‘s surrealistic, noisy garage-punk stomp than the Black Angels‘ post-Syd Barrett narcoscapes Those expecting the ever-present menace of Thee Oh Sees’ Putrifiers II album may find this collection lightweight, although it’s a lot more diverse. It takes awhile to get going, but it’s back-loaded with a mighty payoff at the end. The first couple of tracks don’t have much going on and what’s there isn’t very tight. But then they hit a vein with the third, Crushed Grass: simple Nick Knox-style drums and Petey Dammit’s catchy, boomy minor-key bassline anchoring John Dwyer’s unhinged, skronky guitar.
Burning Spear is not a reggae song – with its jaggedly squalling experimental postpunk edge, it sounds like a lo-fi Wire outtake from Chairs Missing. What You Need opens with a djeridoo-like feedback drone that kicks off the catchy hammer-on bass hook that the band runs all the way through the end of the song. Wait Let’s Go loops a catchy acoustic noir pop riff behind guy/girl vocals, while Always Flying juxtaposes insistent postpunk guitar against Brigid Dawson’s woozy, noisy keys. And Devil Again shuffles along with a punk blues edge enhanced by oldschool organ – it’s the most Hussy-like track here.
But all that pales by comparison to the sprawling, reverb-fueled live tracks that close the collection. The band jams out Block of Ice Eagle and turns it into their Psychotic Reaction, a good segue with Destroyed Fortress/No Spell. That one goes on for a mammoth dozen minutes or so, waves of up/down dynamics shifting between a ringing, echoey one-chord vamp, a shuffling interlude pulsing along on octaves from the bass, and a majestic, anthemic garage rock chorus that they feel their way out of gingerly one last time, then fade the song out with surprising elegance. “We’re going to Buffalo tomorrow, I don’t know what the fuck is up with that,” Dwyer announces afterward.What is up with that is that the band is currently on hiatus, but not broken up – this bunch of tracks is obviously intended to keep the party faithful going until it’s time for another tour.